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04.18.2022 School Board Meeting Commentary

This will just be a bit of a meandering commentary as I watch the video a second time. I’ll try to provide a timestamp so that you know where I’m at.

5:48 – Good to see the Pledge of Allegiance. Proud to see my country still being represented in official functions as “low on the totem pole” as the local School Board. I’m curious to learn whether this is done as well in all classrooms, or just some. Does the school have an official policy on this, or is it left to the teacher’s to decide?

7:36 – The board goes through a “Consent Agenda”, which is basically just a quick way, allowed through Robert’s Rules of Order, to push through a whole bunch of more mundane and uninteresting items that would normally take many motions and take up way too much time. This is just fine, although I have contacted Ms. Brunett, the District’s Business Director, to see if I could get a copy of the Financial Statement, Monthly Receipts and Checks, and Student Activity Account Receipts and Checks. If they are supposed to be publicly accessible information, that is. The strange thing is, I don’t see on the Minutes from the previous month that they had actually covered those items in the previous board meeting (which I was unable to attend) in any detail. Also, during the course of this meeting, they didn’t go through similar items for the current month of April. So, that makes me wonder if these are “boring” day-to-day things that Ms. Brunett just handles herself, and while the board officially “approves” these items, they never actually go through the items individually to verify them. I understand in trusting someone to do their job, but at the same time, part of the reason why the Board exists is to act as a check and balance, to ensure that there is oversight on these kinds of things, right? If the Board is just approving these items and is NOT actually performing oversight? That slightly concerns me. Not that I don’t trust Ms. Brunett to do her job, but that if there’s SUPPOSED to be oversight, then there should BE oversight. If there’s not supposed to be oversight by the Board, then you might as well just take those items off the Agenda anyway, if they are never going to be investigated or discussed. Why have it on the Agenda if it’s not looked at and discussed? Just my two cents on that.

08:26 – I was VERY impressed with the way Ashley Mason presented the Curriculum Committee Meeting Report. She was very articulate, and brought up a whole lot of concepts and terms that I’ll now have to spend the next month looking into and learning about. It was very informative, and I could see the enthusiasm for teaching our children in her voice. She does appear to have been an excellent pick to run the Elementary School. That being said, however, I would have liked to have heard some perspective from the Middle and High School Principals, Messrs. Goodman and Ceranski. I can understand that one person in a committee can speak for the committee, but surely they must have had slightly different perspectives on things and additional insight to add? People aren’t a hive mind, you know, at least I hope they aren’t. I may have to talk with these two gentlemen a bit more as my children start to get older, as I’m a bit concerned about the position of the Middle and High Schools when compared to the Elementary School, as there appears to be a bit of a discrepancy and drop off in results at those higher levels.

16:20 – This is fantastic that our teachers appear to have a great and flexible insurance plan, at a decent cost! It was very wise to join the Co-op to get a better deal on this. Good job to the District on taking care of our teachers in this way! Another medal for Ms. Brunett who still did the due diligence on going out to bid to make SURE that the District got the very best deal possible.

20:20 – Again, it’s good to see Ms. Brunett being on top of the Budget Forecast. While we don’t have a “final” budget, it’s a great idea to put together preliminary ones and constantly adjust them as the situation on the ground changes. This gives us a greater flexibility to adapt to change, as well as a lot more power by not being “blindsided” by unexpected things. I do wonder if this budget is available to be seen by the public anywhere though…

21:45 – Student Parent Handbooks – I know that ultimately it’s the board’s decision what gets approved to be in these, but wouldn’t it be nice if the preliminary handbooks were published for all to see so that the public could contact their Board members and give their opinions on the handbooks directly? Right now, it seems that it just goes to the Board members, and the public never sees them until after they’ve been approved and published. We should always seek to allow for greater transparency as well as greater community engagement. That way, we can all win together.

22:52 – As with the other financial statements above, I’ve asked Ms. Brunett (and also Ms. Reetz in this case) to see if the public could have a copy of this 10 year plan for Facilities. It would be good for all of us to be able to see “how the sausage is made”. It’s also good to hear that the District appears to be adjusting that budget smartly and making as much use out of old equipment for as long as possible to save money! As a side note, I had actually asked Ms. Kneifl for a copy of the school’s budget, since she contacted me about three weeks ago regarding another subject, but I still haven’t heard back from her about that yet. I just poked her again just now on that, and I’m hoping to hear back about it soon!

28:42 – Consideration of Revisions to the 2022-2023 Employee Handbook – Again, another document that it’d be good for the public to be able to see! Otherwise, we have no clue what the board is even talking about. Ideally, it would be nice if the whole “packet” that the School Board receives at the start of the meeting is provided digitally the day before the meeting on the school’s website, so that the public has a little time to look at it and consume it, so that they can provide informed feedback.

29:20 – It is at this point in the meeting, when I see the board members and others assembled flipping through papers, I wonder if the board members are not even receiving any of this information until the day of the meeting? If so, then this would be concerning to me, because from outside appearances, it seems the board members are given perhaps a minute or two to read quickly through a document that’s who knows how long before they’re given a chance to ask questions about that document, and then vote on it. I think such deliberations should give the Board members ample time to consume the information in front of them so that they can make a fully informed decision. It’s good that Super Joe (as I call him) gave an “executive summary” of the changes, however, it’d be better if the board had a day or so to view and mull these things over. Even better if the public got a day or more, so that they could look it over as well and contact their board members about it before it’s voted on!

33:58 – It’s good to hear about our educators and students being recognized for their accomplishments by other groups and organizations. We do need more of this. I would like to see more things like this, but done internally. For example, when I was attending Sedgefield Middle School in Goose Creek, SC, the school had an awards program where they recognized not just their athletic stars, but also publicly recognized their academic stars. Awards were given, and appreciated by all students who received them. I don’t know if Fall Creek does anything like that currently – I only have kids in second grade, but I don’t recall being invited to any awards ceremonies so far. I’d like to see something similar to this at the Fall Creek Schools, and even to go one step further – we should be celebrating academic achievement as much as, if not more than, athletic achievement by providing spaces in a place of honor within the High School’s Foyer/Commons space. Because a school should be a SCHOOL first, and an athletic program second. If you walk through that commons area, you’d think it was the opposite. I know that there are a couple of “dull” brass/copper plaques out there in random hallways and entrances that seem to blend in with the brick surrounding them, but these seem like an afterthought, to be honest. I’d rather see these kinds of things displayed in the well-lit trophy cases that the athletics awards appear to receive. I’d like to see visitors and alumni to Fall Creek to come into that area and see that education is the #1 priority of the schools and district by having it celebrated in the same way that other things are.

38:40 – Yes, that is me going to talk to Super Joe. I was confused why it seemed like almost everybody was leaving. Not because I didn’t understand the concept of a Closed Session, but because according to the Agenda, there was to be more of an Open Session after the Closed Session was completed. So, it just surprised and confused me that the majority of the people that were in attendance weren’t sticking around to finish up the meeting after the Closed Session was over! And, for anyone wondering, the mask wasn’t because of any COVID “stuff”, it was because I had a really nasty cold, my nose would NOT stop running, and I’d hate to spread that nasty bug to others!

Conclusion

Overall, I felt that the session was run very professionally by Mr. Wright. You can tell he’s been doing this a long time. However, I would have liked to have seen a lot more interaction and discussion between those involved. There was a lot of “monologue” reporting, which I expected, but not very much discussion about the things that had to be voted on before they were voted on. I attribute much of this (unless I’m wrong), to it being that the Board members don’t seem to receive much of the information about what they’ll be voting on until they’re actually in the meeting and have a pamphlet in front of them. It’s hard to have a discussion about something that you are uninformed about.

I would love to be wrong about this, and if any board member would like to contact me and let me know, I’d be curious to know if the contents of these pamphlets are actually provided to Board members in advance, and if so, in what format and how long before the meeting actually commences.

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